“Discrimination is a hell-hound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives.”—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the leader of the civil rights movement and stood behind the belief that nonviolence was the method as to which African Americans and all people facing discrimination would obtain equality and freedom. He was the living personification of the biblical phrase “turn the other cheek”, and led his disciples and followers on marches and protests in a never ending quest to end the tyranny of racism and segregation in America. King was a man of peace; however history shows us that promoting nonviolence in the face of hatred led to more violence that expected or wanted. From being stabbed in the chest to peaceful protests transforming into anarchic riots, to death threats delivered regularly, King did not become the man of the people without making some bitter enemies.
The hell-hounds had been chasing King since the inception of the movement and his growing and enormous influence within the South. They never made him stop, but King did become weary. According to “Hellhound on his Trail”, a book by Hampton Sides chronicling the last years of King and the man who committed his assassination, King’s brutal schedule saw him on the road more and less at home with his family. King was becoming distant from his wife, Coretta, and his movement. There were a growing number of people in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) that feared for King’s safety and sanity. His Poor People Campaign was considered too ideal and too big of a plan to be an organized, effective strategy in the battle for freedom. He held a self proclaimed “War on Sleep” to accomplish his goals.
He would go to travel to Memphis where blacks’ efforts to secure economic rights was in need of a savior, and King would jump to their rescue— against his SCLC members wishes. King would make these obligations to lead marches in cities without thinking about the consequences of the toll it was taking on him. He truly was married to the movement. His SCLC members told him not to go to Memphis to fight for the black laborers who had gone on strike, but King demanded he be there—for the people. His attempt at a peaceful protest turned in a riot that drew even more media criticism toward King, claiming the riot as an embarrassment and as a clear indication of King’s fading star power. He was losing his audience, but King was worried about losing something much more—his life. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Coretta Scott King ominously said that they “had a sense of fate closing in” on her and her husband. The hell-hounds would not stop chasing him until they tasted blood.
James Earl Ray did not need to be persuaded to kill the man behind the movement. Sides’s portrait of Ray as a depressed, insecure and aloof escaped convict held an immense disdain for African Americans that originated probably due to his Southern upbringing. There was no rationale in his hatred; what bigot uses any? But Ray was as tactical as he was crazy, and hunted for King. His thirst for King’s blood grew out of his loyalty to George C. Wallace, the Alabama governor who was running for president on a platform of prejudice. Wallace had constantly been made a fool of by King; it was in Wallace’s state that King became an icon with his Birmingham protests and arrest. Ray supported Wallace for president. The devil can always recognize his own.
King was killed on April 4, 1968 but the legacy and influence of King will never be silenced. Instead, it will be etched forever as a 30 foot, $120 million statue that is to be dedicated to the Washington, D.C. National Mall on August 28, 2011. On that day, the 48th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, King will be memorialized with the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial—a “line of leadership” they call it—as a man who dedicated his life to democracy, justice and the people. They tried to tear him down before, but on August 28, we will understand that killing a man cannot kill his dream.
Michael Livingston II
HBCU Buzz Staff